IPR Policing Expert Testifies Before Presidential Task Force

Political scientist Wesley G. Skogan urges renewed commitment to community policing

Wesley G. Skogan

Last December, in the midst of heightened tensions between police officers and the public, President Obama established the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. IPR political scientist Wesley G. Skogan, who has conducted extensive research on Chicago’s community policing efforts, was one of the experts invited to make a presentation on February 13 in Phoenix. The task force submitted a preliminary version of its report identify policing best practices to the president in March.

In particular, the task force is examining how to foster strong, collaborative relationships between the police and the communities they serve. In his comments, Skogan sought to answer, “What happened to community policing?”

Skogan explained that while community policing is one U.S. idea that has successfully implanted itself in other countries, “it’s not clear where it is on the agendas [of police departments] today.” The Great Recession hit municipalities—and thus police budgets—hard, leaving many departments to revert to their “ ‘core functions,’ and that could include jettisoning community policing.”

task force
President Obama meets with the task force on March 2, 2015.

According to Skogan, it has also been pushed off the mainline agenda by the recent proliferation of policing innovations. The number of ideas ballooned from two schools of thought, one of which included community policing, in the 1980s, to a crowded list of innovations by the 2000s.

Yet where there is a “political will,” there is a way, and Skogan says the popularity of community policing with the public and officers makes him think that this might be a prime opportunity to “breathe new life into it.”

In closing, Skogan stressed the importance of legitimacy in policing.

“The events in Ferguson, Mo., and other places around the country are a reminder that the police need a legitimacy agenda, too,” Skogan testified. “Crime in this country dropped like a stone for two decades, but the drop has also not been enough to perk up public opinion. People also want their police to be responsive to the community problems that concern them, they want to know they can trust them to do the right thing, and they want reasonable treatment when their paths cross. 21st century policing needs to speak to this agenda.”

Wesley G. Skogan is professor of political science and an IPR fellow.

Video of the listening session, including Skogan's testimony, is available here

Photo credit: Official White House photo by Chuck Kennedy